Guns of the Patriots

Love it or hate it, someday, your favorite film will be remade, and if it sucks, you’ll always have the original to look back on. That being said, every now and then comes a remake that, while not necessarily justified in existence, packs one hell of a punch and brings the story, in some way, into a modern context. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has done just that with his take on John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but his is no copy-paste remake of either’s vision.

Relocating the setting to the California Territory in the late 1800s, the people of Rose Creek are at their wit’s end, as ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, Elegy) is taking their land and lives by force, and all for his own personal gain. One such a townsperson who has lost her home and her husband is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, Hardcore Henry). Traveling the near cities looking for help to stand up to Bogue and his men, she finds Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington, Antwone Fisher), a warrant officer who joins her cause almost on the spot. Fighting at Chisholm’s side are noted boozer Joshua Farraday (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy), ex-Confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Sinister), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), lone Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, Lilin’s Brood) and hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, The Judge). Together, they set out to help the townspeople take back what is theirs… and settle a few personal scores.

Those who complain about this remake existing should take into account what could have been — At the project’s inception, Tom Cruise was set to star, but he dropped out over salary issues, and thus we have Fuqua’s vision, brilliantly written by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and diversely cast in a day and age when many are decrying Hollywood movies for a lack of such casts. However, diversity does not solely make this cast succeed, and having the cool and collected Washington lead this team is a brilliant choice — he is the perfect successor to Yul Brynner. Pratt, channelling his inner Star-Lord is charming, but not suffocating, as the womanizing Farraday, something between Victor Mature’s Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine with elements of Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Something the surprised me was that Hawke’s character, Robicheaux, is written as having owed his life to Chisholm, in spite of the fact that the former’s character was a Confederate — it’s good to see redemption of a villain in a big-budget film. Lee and Sensmeier are silently fierce as their respective characters (and it’s refreshing to see an American Indian play a role that matches his ethnicity), but it’s D’Onofrio who steals the show, channelling the best of Andy Devine with the solemnity of a child at prayer. These being said, a story is rarely complete without a great villain, and Sarsgaard is terrific as the lawless lord of the land. Bogue exudes all the menace of a serial killer, filling the viewer with silent fear, as if cornered by a cobra.

More important than all of this, however, is that Fuqua never feels the need to call out the fact of his cast’s diversity  — the N-bomb, or any blatant slur, is not to be found in this film (take note, Tarantino), and on the opposite side, there is no deification of any one member of the seven above the other. Further, unlike the original film, there is no romantic subplot involving one of the seven, and that’s exactly how it should be — this is a tale of frontier justice; there’s little time to smooch while bullets fly over your head.

I do have a couple of misgivings about the film — nothing that drags it down considerably, but still, Haley Bennett’s Emma, while far from being a damsel in distress, is rarely seen with a smile on her face. Granted, things go horribly for her in the first scene and she may well go down with her village, but even when the town is partaking in minor pleasantries, she is still solemn. Still, I’ve never been in such a situation, so who am I to talk? Lastly, the montage of the seven training the townsfolk in weaponry goes over too fast — it comes off as somewhat hard to believe they became good marksmen so fast.

Even so, I say praise be Antoine Fuqua, because he has done what few others could — remaking a classic is no walk in the park, but he does so with tact and poignancy, and perfect for the age we live in. After all, if we can’t defend ourselves against tyranny, what good are we?

Rating: 4.5/5

Fearless


In making Sully, legendary director Clint Eastwood has created an amazing epic about an event most would deem TV movie fare. True, the movie is the shortest of his career, running at just 95 minutes, but it is nothing short of astounding in every sense of the word, a film that is moving, suspenseful and, in presentation, the first of its kind.

Based on a true story that made international headlines in 2009, the film deals with the human psyche as well as presenting the enduring legacy of its title figure. Tom Hanks (Angels & Demons) brillaintly portrays Captain Chesley Sullenberger as a man thrust into the public eye, all for keeping people safe in a moment of extreme crisis — he is shocked and haunted by what-if scenarios in his mind, and it only gets worse when the airline companies and insurance firms butt in, trying to find some damning evidence to ruin him and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight), all while having to deal by proxy with his wife (Laura Linney, John Adams) and daughters’ stress of being daunted by the press outside their home.

If it sounds as though I’ve downplayed the acting capability of Mr. Eckhart and Ms. Linney, my apologies, for they are fantastic as well, providing a moral compass to guide Sully and keep him resolute in a time of great stress. Just as impressive is the smaller but very necessary focus on a few of the passengers aboard Flight 1549, which could easily have slowed down the film to the dreaded level of boredom most disaster films suffer from. Thankfully, the passengers focused on only help us as viewers to fear for their safety. Believe me, there are moments in this film where, even though you know how the crew and passengers end up, you cling to your seat for dear life and gasp in terror.

As I said before, Sully is the first film of its kind in that it’s filmed almost entirely with IMAX cameras — 95%, according to IMAX Corp., and the difference is staggering. If there is an IMAX theater near you, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t see it in the aforementioned format. The screen fills to the complete 1.90:1 IMAX aspect ratio, and the sound was mixed for IMAX first, so you’re getting the best balance and listening experience here and here alone. However, a format doesn’t guarantee a great film, but you get one here, thanks not just to the innovative octogenarian Eastwood, but his go-to cinematographer Tom Stern (Hereafter, American Sniper) and first-time Eastwood company member Blu Murray as editor. The film, occasionally jumping from event to event, is a seamless, much less coherent, experience.

While the Hollywood intelligentsia and some of the public may not think much of Eastwood now due to his politics, I urge you to put those views of his to the side and enjoy the film as it stands — a salute to heroism under fire, and thus far, the best motion picture of the year.

Rating: 5/5

Soon You’ll See A Golden Stream Of Light

2016 has been a great year for me crying like a baby at the movies, and Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon is no exception! As a huge fan of the original, to the point of memorizing and frequently singing the songs from it, I was, at first, disappointed when I heard that this remake was to be a non-musical adaptation, let alone set in the present day. As the release date drew nearer, I read interviews with the cast and crew that eased my doubts, and the final trailer had me hooked. In the end, I’m so glad at how well the remake is put together, rid of winks and nods to the original (as was the director’s intention) and crafting a wholly new experience that brings to mind the best of the adventure movies of the 1980’s.

The story opens succinctly – Pete, at age 5, is the sole survivor of a car crash while his parents are going with him on a camping trip. Alone in the forest, he becomes acquainted with a huge dragon, who seeks to protect him. Six years pass, and Pete (Oakes Fegley, This Is Where I Leave You) and his dragon, whom he names Elliot, are best of friends, enjoying their lives of fun and play together. Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Millhaven, a logging crew, led by brothers Gavin (Karl Urban, Star Trek Beyond) and Jack (Wes Bentley, Interstellar), draws nearer to the protected parts of the forest, while a park ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World) seeks to keep law and order between the two, and all the while, the children of the town are driven by the stories of dragons in the forest told by Mr. Meecham (Robert Redford, Jeremiah Johnson). All of these people will meet through the one thing nobody seems to believe in!

In addition to me sputtering like a faucet, 2016 is also a great year for actors, particularly children —  Oakes Fegley brings the requisite euphoric glee when around Elliot to showing great fear and wonder when taken away from him. Further, child actress Oona Laurence (Southpaw) is charming as Natalie, Jack’s daughter, instructing Pete on the ways of the world he has missed out on with warmth and kindness. While they do carry the heft of the film’s emotional weight, the adults in this film do not rest on their laurels at all, best shown by Howard and Redford, as a daughter and father looking to believe in stuff most left to childish fantasy and getting far more than they bargained for. Wes Bentley and Karl Urban also do great work in their roles, with Bentley showing a warmer side than I’ve seen from him in his previous films, while Urban, the ultimately misguided villain of the story, being mean but never truly evil, which is how it should be; his character is not a mustache-twirler.

The film is gorgeously shot in the home of Middle-Earth, New Zealand, and by no less than cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), who shows off the best of the land in a way that enhances the believability of the story and the great visual effects by the amazing artists at Weta Digita, who make Elliot’s fantastic self seem real and breathing, and only help the raw emotions you as an audience member feel throughout the course of this movie. Ultimately though, the best kudos have to be given to writer-director David Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks, who could easily have plagiarized the previous film’s material and instead crafted a harrowing, beautiful experience that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Between this and The Jungle Book, Disney is on a roll with its live-action ventures! I look forward to what Lowery and Halbrooks bring to their upcoming remake of Peter Pan, also at the House of Mouse. Until then, see this movie and you will leave feeling happy to be alive!

Rating: 5/5

Boldly Go

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The tribute is only… logical!

If space is the final frontier, may it go on forever! Under the unexpected hands of the Fast & Furious series’ Justin Lin, the rebooted Star Trek films have hit a series high in this year’s 50th Anniversary Extravaganza — Star Trek Beyond. The film’s predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness, represented a disappointment for many fans, myself included — from a white Khan to a cop-out ending, Into Darkness was a misstep on almost every front. That is not the case with this film!

With three years into the Enterprise‘s five-year mission, not all is well aboard. Her captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), is burdened with doubts about his ability to lead the crew and live up to his late father’s reputation — how’s that for a birthday present? — while Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum) is doubled down with the death of an old friend and a break-up with his girlfriend/crewmate Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy), and the rest of the ship’s compatriots aren’t faring much better. On arrival to a starbase to resupply, the crew is tasked with a mission on a distant and uncharted planet, where old dangers and new allies await.

The production history behind Star Trek Beyond is a fairly tumultuous one — once set to be written and directed by Roberto Orci (co-writer of the previous installments), his  departure warranted both a new director and, in Paramount’s eyes, a new script, this time from Scotty himself, Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and relative newcomer Doug Jung. Their script channels the best the series has to offer, and still offer a film that may well be remembered as a classic. In point of fact, I was reminded more than once of two classic films — The Great Escape and Stalag 17 — that no doubt played a great hand in the writing of this film, as a prison camp setting with a motorcycle chase scene is no doubt cut from the same cloth!

My only gripe with the story is the villain, a dark and creepy one (what else?) called Krall. Played by the one and only Idris Elba (The Jungle Book), we never seem to know his motivation or the full circumstances of his being a villain. He seems something of a mashup between Star Trek‘s Nero and Star Trek: Insurrection‘s Ru’afo — make of that what you will — but we know littler about Krall than we do the aforementioned two.

Still, the decision to hire Pegg and Jung paid off brilliantly, as bringing new blood to this film only helps it shed the ghosts of its predecessor while bringing a fresh eye to the franchise in the form of director Justin Lin. Those fearing the “car chase” mentality of the Fast & Furious films need not worry — if anything, Lin brings his knowledge of a series’ cast and the feeling of family it implies, both during and after a take. Sign him for more, Paramount!

Speaking of family, a new addition to the crew in this film is a welcome one in the form of the mysterious hunter Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), who takes a shine to engineering and, of course, to Scotty! Ms. Boutella brings some much-loved mirth and ingenuity to the film, and I do hope we see more of her in coming sequels! The remaining crew, most notably Bones (Karl Urban, Dredd) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Green Room), are given much greater material than they had in Into Darkness, and redeem the beloved nature of their characters. On that note, be prepared to cry buckets in regard to a couple of tributes to their respective crewmembers.

I was reminded by a friend recently about how Gene Roddenberry was a visionary ahead of his time, and on the 50th Anniversary of his series’ genesis, I feel he’d be proud of this tribute, both to his work and his belief in the endurance of the human race. I can’t wait for more Trek following Beyond, but if producer J.J. Abrams is anyone to go by (and he is), it truly will go where no one has gone before!

Rating: 4.5/5

Dial Tone

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Seriously, what’s the final title?

I am seriously at complete odds with what I just saw-who in their right mind okayed the script for this new version of Ghostbusters? Before saying anything further, I am a feminist and this movie is like a flat, heated bottle of Diet Coke that has gone out of date by about five years. Let the idea of that simmer on your tongue for a second or twelve. It isn’t appetizing, is it?

The all-lady cast of Ghostbusters (or is it Ghostbusters: Answer The Call? Set the title straight, Sony!) is not the problem with this reboot, either in decision or performance. Rather, I reiterate, it is the lousy script, whose writers seem wholly uninterested with making a feminist blockbuster, or making a good movie at all, and instead focus on laying groundwork for a sequel and spinoffs.

It starts out innocently enough — Columbia University professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, The Martian) is dragged back into a past she’d rather forget when a book she co-wrote on the paranormal resurfaces online, thanks to her estranged childhood friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids). Tracking her down leads her to a haunted house nearby, where a spontaneous experiment conducted by Abby leads to the both of them stumbling upon the discovery of a malevolent ghost. Caught on camera professing her findings, one thing leads to another, and Erin is fired days short of receiving tenure, and more or less forced to join forces, as it were, with her girlhood chum and her partner in scientific experimentation, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live). Together, and with new recruit Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones, The Company We Keep), they set out to rid New York City of a rising threat.

It sounds better than it actually is — this is boring. So damn boring, and boy, does it show. While the new ladies in the jumpsuits are damn good with this lousy script (particularly Ms. McKinnon, a knockout!), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), as the receptionist, is as dead as a doornail/knob/knocker. He reads every single line in the style of the lead in a middle school play. Between this and the reboot of Vacation, he should never do a dedicated comedy again — his taste is ass. Renowned English actor Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) is in two scenes in the opening and is gone for the rest of the picture — why cast an actor of his caliber if you won’t use him to his fullest? The same applies to actors Michael Kenneth Williams (RoboCop) and Andy Garcia (The Ocean’s Eleven Trilogy), both in dry, one note roles. Even though no one made them take these blasé parts, why couldn’t they have been better utilized? The kingpin insult committed by this film is the use of the original Ghostbusters actors (sans Harold Ramis, God rest his soul) in pathetic wink-and-nod cameos. Bill Murray’s is the best-written of the bunch, but that’s not saying much, while Sigourney Weaver’s is insultingly relegated to the end credits scenes. So much for a feminist blockbuster.

Further, the script – it’s as if Sony got pitched an all-female Ghostbusters and gave writers Kate Dippold and Paul Feig (the latter of whom is also the director) final cut and no script doctor. Riddled with a bland villain, broken PG-13 sexual epithets and lousy gender and ethnicity jokes, this film offends more than it inspires, and its ending is the worst finale to a summer movie since Spider-Man 3Almost as bad as the script are the visual effects. While other films make you believe in ghosts, this film gives you no reason to — Slimer and his ghoulish crew look like they belong in a PlayStation 2 full-motion video cutscene. These paltry effects are utter hogwash, and while I didn’t see the film in the director’s intended format of IMAX 3D, I shouldn’t have to shell out extra cash just to get a better experience, not that an added dimension could save this film.

The final insult is that Sony intends to make a shared universe of Ghostbusters films, as evidenced well before its post-credits scene by a logo for a subsidiary company they’ve set up – “Ghost Corps, A Columbia Pictures Company.” Really, Sony? Filching the multi-film universe shtick is pathetic in and of itself, but to do so with Ghostbusters signifies the first of many nails in the proverbial coffin.

Under the circumstances, the crew behind this Ghostbusters had a lot to work under — salvaging what could have been Ghostbusters III, balancing the expectations of new fans with the disappointment/rampant sexism of old fans and filling the pocketbooks of studio suits, but the fact is that they weren’t forced to make this film and, in the end, it still sucks. It isn’t one of the worst films I’ve seen, but it is, hand to heart, the biggest disappointment of the year.

Rating: 1/5

The War of Iron Aggression

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SLIGHT SPOILERS WITHIN

Captain America: Civil War is an excellent palate-cleanser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. That being said, I have too many questions after seeing it:

 

Why is the Sandman Ex Machina (i.e.: this is your [family member]’s real killer) re-used from Spider-Man 3?

 

Why does this new Peter Parker look like Jamie Bell’s stand-in?

 

How did the Marvel brass not know that Alfre Woodard was already cast as a different character in their own series, Luke Cage?

 

What happened to most of Elizabeth Olsen’s Eastern European accent?

 

Why cast Daniel Brühl as your villain if you’re barely going to use him?

 

Was the creative team that ashamed of The Incredible Hulk that William Hurt is barely even acknowledged?

 

Why is so little of this actually compelling?

 

Anthony and Joe Russo give good direction, but the end result is befuddled. Further, the script falls like a CEO who’s lost everything. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely write very well for Captain America and his team, but they failed Iron Man miserably — one photograph of a dead college kid shouldn’t have been enough to change his politics. The character has seen death countless times over eight years, both his own and the Avengers’ fault, and this only hits him now? I hope the hiatus from now until Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 clears the minds of all involved.

 

Rating: 2/5

Purpose of Evasion

In theory, selling one’s soul does have many benefits — getting all that you desire and then some in exchange for one small thing. The key words in that sentence are and then somebecause once you have it, can you really be content with what you have, or do you have to go deeper? Questions of a similar ilk are asked in Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace)’s stellar new film, Black Mass, about the ill-advised and ill-fated deal struck between the FBI and Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Too often with biographical pictures, you remember that you are watching A-listers playing real people. That being said, in a way that few other actors have before, Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) excels in his portrayal of Whitey Bulger, with all the innocence of a playground bully and all the terror that Satan himself could ever possess. It doesn’t take long to forget that he is an actor — he becomes the scariest bastard you’ve ever seen. If he does not win Best Actor next year, then the Oscars intelligentsia will have royally screwed the pooch.

Joel Edgerton (The Gift)’s portrayal of FBI Agent John Connolly is one of a man broken by his own allegiances, one of a childhood friendship with Bulger, the other to the bureau and, by association, the United States of America. Choosing the former drags himself deeper into willful ignorance and pathetic nihilism, leading him to his ultimate fate. Edgerton pulls off this role with aplomb, and wisely makes no attempt to appeal this character to the audience.

Going from Masterpiece to Massachusetts is Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as Senator Bill Bulger, brother of Whitey and as complicit as Connolly. Cumberbatch masters the Boston accent and, in raising his voice ever so slightly, also convinces the audience of being someone other than himself — it’s little things like those that can make the performance all the more convincing.

Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris), making his entrance in the third act of the film as Fred Wyshak, a federal agent who, unlike Connolly’s entourage, cannot be bought and seeks to bring Bulger down. In the midst of all the corruption taking place, his appearance is a breath of fresh air to a viewer trapped in putrid darkness. That being said, the light in said darkness is David Harbour (Quantum of Solace)’s portrayal of Agent John Morris, a confidante of Connolly’s who, under pressure of a guilty conscience, exposes his superior and Bulger’s shady deal and everything in between.

The creative crew behind the film does a fine job, particularly cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey), with gritty close-ups populating the film and almost experimental focuses, but the real lynchpin of the film is, in point of fact, its score, created by DJ-turned-film composer Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road). Muted yet powerful, it enhances the story and actions onscreen, in the same way that his instructor, Hans Zimmer, did with his score for Frost/Nixon.

Black Mass is a brilliant showcase of the horror in ignorance and the shame of dealing with the devil, even if he is your boyhood chum. This movie comes highly recommended, for the aforementioned reasons and education come next year’s Academy Awards.

Rating: 5/5

Monster Dearest

The red smoke from those flares bear semblance to my wrists post-film.

I have never been insulted by a film’s stupidity until now. This decade’s edition of Godzilla is soulless and lost, wasting cast and crew over the course of two hours and three minutes.

In this reviewer’s eyes, the fault lies on the shoulders of writer Max Borenstein (emphasis on “Bore”), whose asinine talents would be better put to use writing the imminent My Little Pony movie. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the film is about, due to the fact that Borenstein’s script bears a constantly moving plot that never stops to think of what is being said and/or done. Moreover, it’s riddled with tired, cringe-worthy clichés and glazes over plot holes of various sizes. The kingpin offense is how the film is secretly a sequel (you read that correctly) to the 1954 original — a most unworthy one that rides the tail of its predecessor by bearing its same name. It’s as if Borenstein watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for inspiration.

Further, I seem to remember that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) wrote an (obviously) unused draft of the film which portrayed the film’s titular monster as he was shown in the 1954 original — a living, terrifying metaphor for the dangers of the nuclear age. Specifically, Darabont sought not to render him as a protector of humanity, which is the way he was in the film’s sequels — in his words, “he became Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Guess what Godzilla is in the finished film.

Unlike Borenstein’s writing, Edwards means well in his direction — Make no mistake, the film is an eye-and-ear candy binge, particularly on an IMAX 3D screen. From visuals alone, Edwards’ future as a director looks bright, but he deserves a better script for his freshman outing. Speaking of, the cast present in this film is incredible, but again, they suffer from an utterly destitute script that renders their talents either flat or hysterical.

There’s little to appreciate, let alone love, in this mess of a monster movie, save for the visuals and sounds brought to the film by Gareth Edwards. Here’s hoping Borenstein doesn’t get welcomed back for Edwards’ upcoming Star Wars spinoff.

Rating: 0.5/5